Customer Experience

3 Absurd Onboarding Experiences That Just Might Work


Onboarding new users is tricky.

So tricky, in fact, that we’ve literally built our company around product activation and adoption.

I speak with dozens of businesses every week who take their onboarding very seriously and do a great job. Seeing all these experiences, I have come up with a few ideas I haven’t seen yet because—well—they’re wacky. But maybe just wacky enough to work.

For each idea, we’ll chat about who could adopt it and describe how this absurd onboarding might work to drive activation and adoption.

1. When in doubt, pay it out

Let’s imagine a company whose activation point is once a team begins collaborating on a project together in real time.

First, a new user signs up and creates a project. All good so far, but now they have to invite their teammates. As we all know too well, our teammates have hardly any time to read emails or let alone sign up for a service even if I know it will help save our company time.

Remember the old adage, “what radio station is everyone tuned into?”

WIIFM: What’s In It For Me.

So, what’s in it for me to invite my colleagues?

Sure, we can all collaborate and get value from Quip, but I have to be confident enough in that value prop alone to invite them all and pause their inbox with this email out of the blue.

So, when in doubt, pay it out!

Try incentivizing that first user to invite their colleagues with cold hard cash money, Amazon gift cards, or some other monetary benefit.

Take G2 Crowd for example: I’ve written tens of reviews for their site because I get $10-$25 per review! Imagine if your users got $5/employee they signed up or $10 per employee they got to attend a demo.  You could even drop the old HQ tactic and limit the cashout to users who have got a minimum of $25 worth of credit.

You want that big enterprise account, right?

Imagine an employee getting 100 colleagues to signup. You’re making their week a bit greener to say the least. And sure you’ll get the occasional person who tries to game the system, but when in doubt, pay it out.

There are lots of companies who do something similar. The big examples are Uber/Lyft (free rides) and Dropbox (free storage), but few do it with cold hard cash. Let’s not forget, money talks.

But don’t worry, this idea is free of charge. 😉

2. Time’s up!

Most SaaS products have 14 day trials. This is done to get users a taste of what’s to come and drive urgency, but this strategy is often arbitrary and doesn’t necessarily show the value of the product.

As a sales person, I really want to drive urgency. So, how about doing a free trial that is less than an hour MAX?

I will say—with something like this—your onboarding experience better be sharp as a razor. You must know the few aspects of your platform that users continually come back to and find valuable.  You need to focus all of your user's attention on just that during the hour. You could even consider making a demo app that only has a certain part of your application available to keep the experience focused.

This idea can be particularly useful if your company offers some sort of proprietary data that you don’t want users to have access to for extended periods of time. Hopefully your users realize that you’re selling something proprietary and just want to see a taste of what you can provide.

I think about it like buying a daily lift ticket to ski or snowboard—you’ve never skied top-to-bottom so fast in your life. That $100 better be worth it.

3. The fake out

This one takes some creativity—and some guts—because you will definitely ruffle a few feathers. It’s a take on the idea that you want what you can’t have.

The idea with the fake out is to dangle the actual product functionality and value in front of your user, but ask for their payment before anyone can take an action. The fake out is a close cousin to click bait. But instead of tricking people, you’re just helping them realize that there is going to be a cost to using your product, which is a good expectation to set!

Companies tend to give a lot to “free-trialers” without asking much until the end of the trial. If you have a technically complex trial, instead of supporting users who don’t pay, you now reserve that support for paying customers. The fake-out can also let you strip the time limit. Since users can't really do anything substantial, it’s ok to let them take their time.

The fakeout lets trialers perceive value, see how easy it is to use, and learn the basic behaviors and motions of your tool before buying. All of the actual gained value is held until users upgrade, but you'll still have to prove the product's value fully.

Truth is, people have trouble valuing things that are free. Stick a price on your product and go for it.

Next steps

Wacky examples I know, but they just might work.

And even if you don't use these (admittedly absurd) examples, I encourage you to take time to creatively brainstorm all of the different ways you could onboard your users and show the value of your product quicker.

Want to become a User Onboarding Master? Check out our free User Onboarding Academy!

Ted’s a Boston born, D.C.-bred, poly-sci & entrepreneurial Jumbo (‘13) turned sales nerd.

A former fry cook and after-school athletics coach, Ted may be the only team member with real nautical experience and certifications (sailing coach). An avid skateboarder; builder of computers, wood stuff, & LEGOs; and future comedian/politician—some may recognize him for his stunt-double role as JP in Grandma’s Boy. Ted’s favorite emoji is 🍞.

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